After the great escape of the beautiful Colombia I knew I had to return to this Girl Takes Mundo journey. How could I not, the 50th country to visit was in sight and while I don’t like counting countries per say, at a certain point in my life I knew I had to keep track. So yes, I can easily tell you the countries I have visited and yes this does mean knowing my number. Keeping this top of mind I made my way to Nicaragua AKA the 50th country I have been honored to visit.
The 10 days spent in Nicaragua had me cover quite a bit of ground and while it is a small country I will admit that I felt like I missed quite a bit surprisingly and in hindsight still felt rushed with this journey. This is not to say that my time here wasn’t spectacular because it certainly was and with the limited time I am happy for all that I saw. Nicaragua may be a less underrated country to visit compared to other countries in Central and South America but it’s certainly one that shouldn’t be overlooked and one that many tourists whom I met would agree is not only economical but packed with activities like hiking, surfing, and the 101 things one can do in the many volcanos here. The best part, that while these activities may be geared for tourist you still get a local feel which countries like Costa Rica may lack or harder to get.
Check out the below list of cities I was able to visit during my short time in Nicaragua and be sure to make Nicaragua a top on your travel list and take pictures while you’re at it. I unfortunately noticed while writing this that I was enjoying myself so much in Nicaragua and living in the moment that I forgot to actually capture a lot of it. (Tip: The USD is accepted here and change is given in their currency which means you can save on some exchange rate costs by simply taking out money from an ATM in dollars.)
Managua – I’m adding this city on the list as this is where my flight arrived and anyone flying to and from Nicaragua will be in. As many other fellow travelers who fly to and from here will agree, this should be a land and move on to another city type of city. (FYI: Americans pay $10 USD to enter the country which is paid at customs.)
Amanda, a girl I met on the flight to Nicaragua from Miami decided to share a cab to San Juan Del Sur right after landing and sharing the cost of the cab. (Tip: Shared shuttles which will pick you up from the airport are available to help bring cost down but must be booked in advance. If not taking a cab to the bus terminal and then grabbing a chicken bus is also an option but will take more time to get you to your destination. Amanda and I paid around $40 USD each for the 2.5 hour cab ride to San Juan Del Sur and a shared shuttle costs about $30-$35 USD depending on the number of people in your group to San Juan Del Sur for example.) The cab ride for us was single handedly one of the best decisions we made. Not only were we able to split the cost of this ride and go direct but we discovered how easily we got along. Amanda even joined my group in our travels while in Nicaragua and I walked away with an awesome hype girl of a friend. I can strongly say that Amanda and I both can agree that there are no regrets being the girl asking people on a plane if anyone was heading to San Juan Del Sur or being the girl who ease drops and says, “Did you say San Juan Del Sur? I’m your girl.”
San Juan Del Sur – Best described as a tourist surfing beach town known for its Sunday Funday Pool Crawl. Many Backpackers head here exclusively for this party. Wondering what this party is all about? Check this link here for all the deets from another fellow traveler.
Outside of this pool crawl many tourists will enjoy the multiple bars, restaurants, shopping, surfing or beach bumming in this town. A great spot to check the sunset near the beach is restaurante El Timon. They have a great happy hour deal that includes drinks and bites for $1 USD each and the food adds to the sunset experience. In San Juan Del Sur don’t expect too local of vibes as it’s quite touristy so keep this in mind when planning your time in Nicaragua based off what you want from your trip.
Rested My Head: Hostal Tadeo – small, great breakfast, clean, good price and social but not party around the clock social like Naked Tiger Hostel which helps with actually sleeping after the famous pool crawl.
Ometepe – The volcanic Island is one not to miss. The boat to the island itself brings stunning views and it’s a short hour away from San Juan Del Sur to the pier via shuttle (around $8 USD) followed by an hour boat ride to the island which departs hourly. Once in Ometepe activities include hiking the bigger volcano. This hike takes around 8 hours and by law you need a guide which can range from $20-$60 USD depending on the tour you want. You may also go swimming in cold spring baths (both which I opted not to do).
With the time we spent here my group and I decided to watch the sunset from Punto Jesus Maria, grabbing lunch in the Santo Domingo area for views of the beach, walking around the city and hiking the 45 minute hike to San Ramon Waterfall for a proper waterfall. (Hopefully with your luck you won’t have to witness first hand a boa fall from the top of the fall plunging to its death.)
While the island may seem small getting around will require having transportation. My group and I opted to rent ATV’s for the day which added to our experience and made it easy for us to move around the island in a fun and efficient way. An ATV for a day will run you around $50 USD compared to $20 USD for a motorbike but I can assure you this is the safest and most reliable way to get to San Ramon waterfall as the path becomes a dirt road and an ATV can handle going on this road toward the waterfall saving you an additional hour hike to make your hike only 45 minutes – an hour each way. This may also be done with the motorbike depending on your motorbike skill level or by hiring a horse but I do believe the horse cuts the 45 minute hike to even less.
Rested My Head: Casa Mauro – They provide an awesome orientation of what you can do on the island during checkin (our group felt like we were back in class as we all sat in front of a large map of Ometepe absorbing all the information we could from the staff member), they also help coordinate the rental of transportation, rooms are clean, breakfast isn’t included but worth the additional cost as they give you big portions and prepare it when you want it. Additionally it’s close to the city and even provide you with a ride to the pier to catch the boat back to the mainland free of charge.
Granada – After what felt like a number of buses to get here which in hindsight wasn’t a long journey (2 hours at most) and keep in mind that shuttles and cabs are options and easily accessible from the pier. We made our way to Granda, the Spanish colonial city of Nicaragua. While here, I highly recommend visiting Central Park to take in the colorful architecture, walking around “Calle La Calzada” and “Calle La Libertad” for shops, restaurants, lovely homes and tourist agencies to help book any of the many activities while in Granada.
Since our group was maximizing our time in Nicaragua we opted for our top 2 activities on our list; cigars and volcano lava watching. As I mentioned earlier, there is over 101 things that one can do in the volcanoes in Nicaragua for example in Volcano Masaya near Granada one can drive to the top of the crater and see lava bubble and glow in front of your eyes as you’re surrounded by pitch darkness. But be warned that due to its sulfur content one cannot stay too long near the lava. I should know as I ended up worsening my car sickness well after the tour was done due to the exposure to sulfur. (FYI: A tour will cost you about $15-20 USD and includes roundtrip transport, a guide and the entry fee.) Certainly recommend the tour than trying to do this on your own.
If you didn’t know, Nicaragua is known for its cigars with some of the best cigars being exported to other countries. That’s not to say that you still can’t experience the best and even roll your own in one of the shops in Granada. We spent part of our day at Dona Elba Cigars and I can’t rave enough about this place. Professional cigar rollers explain Nicaraguan cigars as they roll cigars based off your preferences. Robustos for Amanda and I and Mint for Linford. They guide you into rolling your own from start to finish and then we’re welcomed to lounge in the shop to finish the cigars they made for us with courtesy rum. The whole experience was relaxing, educational and for only $150 Córdoba or $5 USD (the cost of rolling your cigar which you walk away with) a steal for such an amazing experience especially for cigar aficionados or simply those who enjoy a good stogie from time to time. I’ll admit it was hard to not buy to my hearts content here as I could think of so many including myself who would enjoy these back home but with home not as near I controlled myself in the shop. I also don’t typically purchase “souvenirs” since traveling with only a backbag can limit my shopping. Despite this I gave in and purchased some cigars and am happy to report that they made it safe to Chicago and are in a humidor for when I’m ready to relive Nicaragua.
Rested My Head: Hostal Oasis, a big hostal with a pool, happy hour and breakfast included. Despite its size and the number of people staying here the hostel was tame. Big plus, if you fancy a workout while traveling the hostel provides a complimentary week access to the gym Pure . The gym is only a short 10 minute walk and the machines will get the job done. They also offer yoga, massages and cafe items for an additional cost.
Leon – After sadly having to part ways with members of our group including Amanda only 2 men were left standing, Linford, a lad from the Netherlands and myself. We continued our journey and made the 2 hour shuttle ride to Leon. Leon is the second oldest city and also a former capital for Nicaragua just like Granada. It is no surprise that this would make both cities rivals similar to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. Leon is quite a busy city so walking around is the best way to get a sense of such a lively city. Central plaza is where the majority of locals and tourist alike will be enjoying people watching and taking in views of Our Lady of Grace Cathedral. Linford and I were able to catch a female rights protest and the traditional street act of La Gigantona. La Gigantona is a tall doll constructed on a wood frame. La Gigantona represents the tall white Spanish woman that came with the conquistadors. El Enano Cabezon AKA a small dwarfish man with a big head will also join her in this street show. Both La Gigantona and El Enano Cabezon dance to the rhythm of the drums in the streets of Leon and they even hold competitions on December 8 every year. Sadly I don’t seem to have pictures of this to help you get an idea of what Linford and I saw but click here for others images.
Many people visit Leon to go volcano boarding which is an extreme version of sledding. Just one of the 101 things you can do on the volcanos in Nicaragua. Being the best travel buddy that I am, I joined Linford after a night of probably way too many drinks to hike Cerro Negro on a Saturday morning and board down one of the youngest volcanos in the world. Thankfully for myself I wasn’t the only one hurting from the prior night activities and thus the group we went with were at the same hiking pace as I. Phew! I quickly realized that sledding in snow is fun but boarding down a volcano is next level and certainly worth the early morning, slightly hungover, slightly motion sickness hike under the sun. Cruising down an active volcano was an adrenaline and while I only reached 30 mph compared to the 80+ mph and the highest speed in our group done by my travel buddy Linford, we all could say we did the #2 activity by CNN’s thrill seekers bucket list. Many tours are offered in Leon for this but we booked via Bigfoot Hostel at $30 USD per person which included a shirt, beer, transportation, equipment and a guide.
While in Leon you also can’t miss some beach time and “Get up stand up surf shop” in conjunction with Bigfoot hostel provide daily shuttles to the beach (included in your volcano boarding ticket if booked via BigFoot) and hold the popular Friday night beach party in Leon for $100 Córdoba or $3.24 USD. Not bad for round trip transportation to the party and a beer. Also the culprit for most of the group volcano boarding including myself.
When I wasn’t sledding down volcanoes, hitting the beach or walking the city, I was heading to what quickly became my favorite ice cream spot, “Kiss Me”. I’m not even joking, next to bartenders, ice cream staff are my favorite people to make friends with. So naturally on the first day that I went and had ice cream I walked out of the shop telling the ice cream man to remember my face because I would be coming back and he had no choice but to remember my face after the multiple, multiple times he saw me while I was in Leon. All in all to say, if you find yourself in Leon this place is worth a visit.
Rested My Head: Via Via, across the street of the infamous party hostel BigFoot but naturally much calmer, plenty of hammocks to enjoy, buffet breakfast included and if you do fancy some entertainment the front of the hostel is a restaurant bar that offers live music and game nights.
Las Brasiles – After a stop and go multi city tour of Nicaragua the final stop had to be secluded and my pick after Linford’s volcano boarding choice was to head to Surfing Turtle Lodge for a super laid back Sunday Funday in Las Brasiles Nicaragua (about a 45 minute journey from Leon). There is nothing much else to do here but the lodge and that’s exactly the point. You spend your time here enjoying the beach, taking surf lessons, playing volleyball, perfecting your tan, enjoying drinks on a hammock, going turtle watching as this lodge doubles as a turtle sanctuary and my favorite activity, doing yoga on the beach. Are you sold? Because Linford certainly was and stayed an extra night after I had to part ways and move on to my next stop on this Girl Takes Mundo journey.
Nicaragua, you were my 50th, you were beautiful. The people who I spent my time with here were simply amazing and friends who I’ve made for the long haul. Realizing that there is more to do on volcanos than just hiking has been noted and appreciated. So I can confidently say that I’m glad you we’re my 50th and I can confidently say that you made leaving Colombia manageable. Thank you for that.